‘Inspiring Youth Toward a Podiatry Career’

Welcome to ‘Making those decisions about our profession as a career’

Introduction

It was easy to recall that I failed to achieve the career that I had originally wanted due to my lax attitudes as a sixth former and ended with podiatry, but, without regret. However, forty years later I can look back and appreciate that my forced departure from a route that I had planned since I was 13 must have been ordained.

In this article I discuss my experience after attending a new career concept called Inspiring the Future. As a podiatrist, I am aware that our profession needs new recruits but it is apparent that the College of Podiatry focuses more on those nearer to leaving school than those in primary or middle-secondary education. This article is intended to raise awareness about the lack of direction given to some sectors within our youth. First, let me provide an overall flavour of my recent experience. While I was not filmed personally several lovely people made the equally important point about de-stereotyping career roles. I have reproduced Lin’s article below, slightly edited for clinicians to read who might as yet not have considered volunteering. 

Special feature report from Spotlight BBC regional news

You may have seen the first two episodes of CH4’s programme ‘When I Grow Up’, where the third and final episode airs next Thursday at 8 pm.  It gives primary school children jobs in worlds they never knew existed and it then examines how they see their futures.  The programme was based on the research that we have done, showing that children as young as six have already formed ideas about the jobs they can and can’t do in the future.

As a volunteer, you can see how your offer of donating an hour of your time a year can really make a difference in helping to raise aspirations, broaden horizons, and challenge social and gender stereotypes. During term time, many schools use this time to conduct a range of career-related events aimed at the younger year groups.

A number of campaigns have been launched regionally, notably, one that we are running in Dorset in conjunction with Dorset Council, Southern Universities Network (SUN), Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), and the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC).

Events ran before Easter in both primary and secondary schools, and it was featured on BBC Spotlight and South Today.  If you would like to view the piece, click here to see it.

Lin Proctor
Head of Marketing and Communications

New career targets

In April I was invited to take part in a motivational two-day career visit together with a number of other professionals and skilled workers. Our aim was to support an initiative called Inspiring the Future. That initiative was built on a simple premise; that earlier student interactions with employers and professionals can help forge a better future opportunity.

The premise was considered valid because exposure to a wide range of careers can guide young people in a direction that the old style careers officer might have found harder to influence. Put simply, exposed to the reality of speaking to those who ‘do’ has a greater impact than just reading about occupations in brochures.

 

By the time students hit the sixth form, they will have taken key subjects that influence their immediate opportunities for higher education. In making such a judgment they may still be unsure in which direction to travel. There has been an assumption that many children do not appreciate their own abilities. Talking to career professionals who have trodden a well-worn path appears to create more confidence through acknowledgment of what is possible.

Stereotypes in podiatry

The need to avoid not being employed or being unable to undertake a meaningful post-school training is imperative if we are to find employment for our future population. Breaking down gender stereotypes is important.

As one of 6 men in a class of 36, my profession has been somewhat dominated by the view that podiatry was a female profession. A woman can undertake the work of a car mechanic, and so a man can find an engaging career in podiatry. While podiatry was biased toward one gender, podiatric surgery was biased toward males but has now found a better balance to the point that our first female Dean was appointed in 2017.

Are choices predetermined?

I confess by the time I had to make a choice of direction in my career, and a lack of appropriate A-level grades required to enter veterinary science, I suddenly hit the ‘black dog’ of depression as to where to turn. A chance visit to a private career analyst did more to help me than my school had done back in 1974, a school which had all the privileges that Grammar schools offered then. My local vet had taken me on at 14 so I was well inducted, but perhaps I should have been exposed to a wider range of careers to allow a more flexible approach just in case. Naturally, none of us feel we might not achieve our goal. What about those who are lost in a vortex and haven’t a clue?

Evidence for NEET

The expression ‘not in employment, education or training’ or NEET seems to have some association with exposure to work-related opportunities. Students would be 25% less likely to be affected by NEET if they had four or more interactions. The likelihood of a better income was also considered related to the number of exposures.

The source of this research comes from the Education and Employers report between 2012-18. It is not just gender that suffers from stereotyping but ethnic groups and those in lower social classes.

Having taken part in an integrated careers intervention in April at two schools, it is clear that those children with low esteem and less drive and motivation need the greatest help. These youngsters might have been termed as ‘underachievers’ which is contrary to making a decision that allows a student to aim for something higher.


Method

Given that the volunteers in our groups had six minutes with each table of children, deeper exploration was limited to a superficial level. Our impact had to be immediate and rapid connecting with children was imperative. It would have been easy to have focused on those that spoke loudest or seemed keener. You have time only to open a debate and despite each group having pre-prepared questions, these were not always as helpful as those generated by independent questions. Nonetheless, that is not a criticism as it helps children gain the confidence to open dialogue

Tools of the trade

The use of aids became important and I had several options available.

  • A careers sign which I had converted from a Frisbee.
  • A model foot with cut away anatomy section as well as leaflets (shown) as well as some give away pencils, care of the College of Podiatry.

Anticipating the need to widen the subject I created some A4 colour pictures (shown) associated with my daily work and typical of a podiatrist. The colour pictures were a life saver when groups suddenly felt they had exploited all the questions.

The guidance provided was broad and flexibility was in the hands of the volunteer who could make the most. I was intrigued by the chiropractor who used a stethoscope upon which the children focused on listening to chests. The value of props seemed attractive especially group A.


Group A top
Group B bottom

Two schools in Dorset involved with Inspiring the Future project. Author shown with school children with the permission of parents.


Analysis

As a former health professional and scientist I am skilled in communication, making assessments from people based on what is said as well as what is left unsaid. Reading body language becomes important when communication fails. In the latter case it is easy to make incorrect assumptions. Teenagers might not engage unless there is a reason to engage.

Comparing two groups; (A) 8-10 and (B) 14-15 the difference between the general enthusiasm could not be different.

Group A was enthusiastic and had no concern that their day was being altered for a career discussion. Group B, or rather a few students gave the impression that they might have been present under sufferance, although as a generalisation this might be unfair. The generalisation in as much that group A was uninhibited in the main compared to group B. However, the mix varied between groups A and B. There were those who engaged, those who led, those who wanted to disengage and those who wanted to be led. In other words, ‘normal’.

One 15-year-old girl knew she wanted to join the army and use the army to support her education toward medicine. Another 15-year-old boy who propped his head in his hands said he had nothing to ask or contribute. In group A there were the same constituents. A 10-year-old boy knew that he wanted to be a marine biologist. The 10-year-old girl did not want to ask questions.


Image of podiatry

For podiatrists the knowledge of the job is already enshrined in our daily lives but the population at large would see ‘feet’ as little more than unsavoury and a role that does not have automatic appeal. Sometime before I gave my career chat I had stumbled on a feature on the internet extolling well paid jobs that might otherwise be considered unsavoury by Katie Noakes (2015)

While the skill of turning to ‘feet’ as an ideal occupation might tax anyone faced with so many alternative glamorous opportunities around, the idea of earning good money had an interesting appeal.

Salaries

Warned we would be asked about how much we earn I was prepared. The College of Podiatry had provided a great guide to salaries published from its information network. Even I was shocked over some of the magnitudes. I thought that I had earned a good salary during my working career. Given the starter salaries around 20K, the independent sector could shoot way above 100K and could reach £1,000,000 in cases of real entrepreneurship and multicentre practices.

I started my career, I told the enquiring 15-year-old on £2700.00 a year. My best year was many times this, but the elevation of podiatry since the seventies and the older Whitley rates now replaced by AFC has grown exponentially, so that there is no reason to consider podiatry poor. Noakes wrote in her article

‘Podiatry is a lucrative yet somewhat unappealing job that is often overlooked by people when they are choosing a career. You would be dealing with tasks such as ingrown toenails, bunions, ulcers, and many more enthralling toe tasks and other fun-filled feet factors. Average earnings of up to £29,000 per year are the typical starting point for podiatrists and can ultimately increase up to £40,000 with the right experience and specialised training.’

Even Noakes would be surprised by the College’s latest published figures on earnings. The 15-year-old boy who had previously propped his head in his hands and had nothing to ask or contribute suddenly became charged. Others were visibly shocked. I am sure had the group been away from adults a few choice expletives would have been shared. Perhaps Noakes could have written a different piece?

Podiatry is a profession with a good career structure and pay scale often overlooked by people when choosing a career. The role is integrated with many other health professionals as well as leading foot health science. Because podiatrists are medically trained they are able to offer many services that maintain our foot health and mobility. Dealing with pain and discomfort is their primary aim, by managing deformity and skin integrity. These are vital ingredients for safe walking and restoring social integration. Maintaining the nation’s health cannot be achieved without healthy feet.

If the salary helps, then who am I to ignore the benefits of promotion.

As someone who has now redirected their life toward podiatry journalism, my views about what a podiatrist does may diverge from the College’s view. The skill in promoting a profession cannot be left to those without the gift of promotion and sales pitch. If I sound critical I am not, for the current College of Podiatry has shown over the last few years a better awareness of image. While the office thought they had nothing suitable for the groups I had to deal with, their brochure on science was indeed inspiring!

Thanks for reading ‘Inspiring Youth Toward a Podiatry Career’ written by David Tollafield.